Harry, the Spy
Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Jesus put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So, it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.”
And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
In 1964 Louise Fitzhugh’s novel Harriet the Spy, was published and it has been called “a classic.”
The basic story is about eleven-year-old Harriet who is an aspiring writer. Encouraged by her Nanny who is nicknamed “Ole Golly” Harriet carefully observes other and writes down her thoughts in a notebook.
She has an afternoon “spy route” that she follows every day observing her classmates, her neighbours, her friends, and the people in her community.
One day she loses her notebook and it ends up in the hands of her classmates who are appalled at Harriet’s brutal honesty and assessments of them.
They form a spy catcher club to make Harriet’s life miserable. And they do make it miserable.
There is a happy ending however, because eventually the Spy Catcher club breaks up because of bossy controlling kids; and Harriet who is appointed editor of the class newspaper apologizes and her friends forgive her; and the class newspaper becomes a big success, because Harriet writes interesting stories on the people in her neighborhood based on her detailed observations.
One might argue it is less of a spy story than it is a coming of age story, and its critical success was that it captured the feelings, thoughts and situations of a modern city child with remarkable clarity and dimension.
And there were those who thought it was a bad book and sought to get the book banned from schools because it taught children to lie, to spy, to back-talk and to curse.
It was a book that a lot of people identified with, especially those who felt different, because Harriet herself was different, an outsider, and she dressed like a boy. And some of the characters in the story, including Harriet herself, challenged gender norms of the 1960’s.
And face it, which one of us hasn’t from time-to-time felt different, or felt like an outsider, or felt alone.
But the part of the story I am intrigued with today and for the purpose of this sermon and our gospel text is the spy part.
Harriet being unobtrusive following people around, noticing and then writing down honest assessment of people and their condition in life, and really noticing the struggles and concerns of the everyday people she meets.
And I thought. That is what the good ministers do. The best preachers I have ever heard are the ones who seem to sit there and take notice of all the people. Unobtrusive in some ways but they take everything in, and they understand the human condition and then they give honest assessments of life. Not always popular, but truthful and insightful.
And so, I thought whimsically it isn’t Harriet, the Spy, but Harry the Spy.
I am a secret agent for God.
And that is what the gospel seems to be about today. I love Jesus.
I know I am supposed to love Jesus. But I love Jesus for he is one wild and crazy guy.
And he is so creative and so hard to pin down.
Last couple of weeks we talked about weeds. Jesus told a story about the good seed and the good soil and the weeds growing up and choking out the seed.
Then Jesus told a story about an enemy who sows weeds in a farmer’s field and the dilemma of how to get of all those bad weeds.
But this week, Jesus literally stands on his head, turns the kingdom of God upside down and does a complete reversal.
This week we are the weeds and it is a good thing. We are the mustard seed. We are the weeds infiltrating the crop.
It is spy talk.
Now spies have a long history in the world and even in the bible.
Sun Tzu in China, who wrote “The Art of War” talks about various kinds of spies in his book and that dates to about 600 years before Jesus.
The Egyptians had spies. The ancient Greek and Roman Empires had spies.
One of the earliest recorded stories of spies appears in the bible. There were spies sent into the land of Canaan at the time of Moses and the Exodus. That is thirteen centuries before Jesus was born. One of those spies was a man named Joshua, whose name means the same as Jesus: Saviour.
He himself became the leader of the Israelites and sent spies to reconnoitre the city of Jericho. They stayed with a prostitute called Rahab, who is mentioned as one of Jesus’ ancestors.
Spies go a long way back and one way to think of Christian ministry and mission is that of being a spy or a secret agent.
The plain truth is that there is another kingdom, a kingdom led by King Jesus, a kingdom that is at hand, it is near, it is happening and it is in opposition to the kingdoms of this world.
And I work for that Kingdom of Jesus. You do too.
And our job is supposed to be subversive.
We are to infiltrate, and spread the message of love like a bunch of weeds in the grain.
We are to infiltrate and spread the message of love like yeast in a loaf of bread.
We are to infiltrate and spread the message of love like salt seasons a meal, like light in a dark room.
You know, most people ignore ministers. Ministers get up every week and preach and do their thing and a lot of people sit and listen and think it was nice or cute. I loved that joke or story, but they go home and life isn’t necessarily a whole lot different.
A whole lot of people, my children included, I suppose think that what ministers do and what churches do isn’t very important any more.
It isn’t relevant. We talk ancient history and talk about miracles and intangibles and spirit and touchy-feely stuff and a bunch of it isn’t even real and it certainly isn’t that relevant. And so, they get on with their real lives, while we in the church talk fairy tales and mustard seeds and peace and non-violence, as if we are in the real world.
But that is okay, because if they realized what we are really are talking about, they just might take us out and crucify us.
We are talking about a whole different way of life. We are talking about a different kingdom, a kingdom that is in opposition to this world.
And my job, our job is to introduce people to this kingdom of love and grace and forgiveness and inclusion and teach people to notice this kingdom…to be spies and recognize the truth, and recognize love, and recognize peace, and recognize reconciliation and recognize forgiveness and recognize equity and justice….
Take detailed honest notes and begin to practice this kingdom and live this kingdom.
And to practice this kingdom you need a whole different set of practices than what makes the Kingdom of Canada strong or the American or Chinese or Russian Empires strong.
You don’t need economic might or military might or technological information, or wealth.
The methods of the kingdom are truth-telling, love, forgiveness, reconciliation, peace-making, non-violence, sharing, compassion and inclusion…
….and story-telling and prayer.
We are subversives fighting against the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of ego.
And the way to do that is to let them think we are harmless and not important and not relevant.
That way we can spread the message liberally and generously like weeds in the field.
I mean if we came at it face to face, telling it like it is, the world would think we are crazy.
Listen to what Jesus tells us to do:
Sell what you have and give it to the poor.
When someone hits you on the cheek turn to that one your other cheek.
Blessed are the poor.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
Love your enemies.
If you want to be part of my kingdom take up your cross and die with me.
Blessed are the meek.
Jesus said that he had come to bring good news to the poor liberty to the captives, to set free the oppressed.
Jesus talked about giving clothes to the naked and food to the hungry, about visiting those in prison and caring for the sick.
Jesus included the outcasts, the sinners, the foreigners, the unclean, the different…
Hey the message of Jesus is crazy. It’s outlandish. Nobody really believes that we should be non-violent and do away with police and armies and weapons and guns.
Guns in Canada is a multi-billion dollar.
Nobody really believes in forgiving criminals, do they? They want more prisons and longer sentences.
Most people want the poor to be not so poor, or they want the homeless to have a home, but they don’t really believe in the government taking a big chunk of our money away to pay for it…
I preach about taking up a cross, but I am not sure how badly I want to take it up.
I mean I want a nice house and nice cars and nice things and a nice retirement where I can afford to go on nice holidays.
Surely taking up a cross is a metaphor for denying calories or alcohol or drugs or something that isn’t good for me.
Surely, we don’t have to sacrifice our money, and endure pain or hardship or ridicule, or physical harm?
The message of Jesus is so crazy, so outlandish, so different, so unbelievable that the way to spread it is not to stand on a street corner with a bullhorn telling everybody to repent of their sins and come to Jesus.
It is to do it under the table so to speak. The kingdom of self is huge. And it has lots of defenses and it can identify threats to the self very easily because the kingdom of self has cameras, and guards, and security systems up the ying-yang.
So, when you are taking on the kingdom of self, you have to be sneaky.
And that is why God sent Jesus. He sneaked him in as a poor baby.
Jesus is the ultimate secret agent… the ultimate spy. He is sent down here to earth on a mission from God.
He blends in. He born to poor folk and grows up as a carpenter or something. He isn’t royalty, but a poor rabbi or teacher. He doesn’t have a house. And a lot of the time he doesn’t even talk about God.
He talks in sneaky stories. Only one of the parables actually mentions God.
He talks about weeds and yeast and farms and flowers and weddings and servants and bosses and finding things. He talks about bread and rock and sheep and shepherds and water and friends. He talks about justice and injustice and setting people free, and helping people to eat, drink, breathe, dance, have fun, be themselves and have a life that is valued and special and full of an abundance of the things that makes life meaningful.
He talks about ordinary things to ordinary people and they don’t realize that he is planting word bombs. Bombs of love and forgiveness and acceptance that one day will explode in their minds and cause change.
His mission was to undermine the world’s message of wealth, power, status, privilege and control.
His mission was to undermine the message that to be somebody important you had to be rich or powerful or famous.
His mission was to infiltrate the world and give it a new message. That God is love. That love is God and that the real meaning and purpose and value in life was love. And that if you loved or were loved then you were priceless. And God loved you so you were priceless.
Ultimately the authorities realized he was a spy and they did what they always do to weeds or traitors. They pull them out and kill them.
So, they killed Jesus, the spy. The executed him and thought that got rid of him and his stupid message that all that counted was love, and that God loves anyone. What nonsense. Even their religious leaders knew that God only loved the faithful and the good.
But it was too late. The kingdom of Jesus had already infiltrated this world, and it started to grow.
And this kingdom of love was taking over. And people started practicing peace and forgiveness and grace and compassion and they loved their enemies and the turned the other cheek and they welcomed the outsiders and the sinners and the prisoners and the foreigners and the handicapped and those who were different and said that there was no difference between people, that all were the same no matter sex, status or differences, that all were God’s children and all were valued and loved.
And they said that Jesus the spy wasn’t dead, but that he was alive in this kingdom. Wherever there was love Jesus was there. Wherever someone helped another they were helping Jesus. That Jesus the spy had a new home and a new place and it was in the hearts and minds of those who were part of his kingdom and as long as there was one person who loved, who cared who trusted in his way of peace and love, then Jesus would never die.
And if we want Jesus to be alive in us, it really isn’t about what doctrines we believe about Jesus as much as it is just doing what Jesus did.
Welcome the different.
Listen to the lonely.
Spread grace liberally and extravagantly
Share with the needy.
Include those who are excluded.
And you know what? Nobody needs to know that you are doing this in the name of Christ. Sometimes it even works better if you don’t tell them until they are ready.
You know in movies sometimes the spy is the big hero. He or she is super attractive and gets to sleep with whomever they want to sleep with. In the movies the spy is often a super-hero when it comes to fighting and can beat up a hundred bad guys. In the movies spies always win so taking up a cross is not a big deal because they always prevail.
But in real life, the best spies are not famous, not superheroes, not attractive or killing machines. They are just ordinary people, who blend in, who do their job to advance their kingdom.
In the movie Bridge of Spies which is based on the real-life case of Rudolph Abel a convicted KGB spy who was caught in the United States, a Lawyer James B. Donovan is appointed to defend Abel played by Mark Rylance.
Now Rudolph Abel is just an ordinary man… no super-powers at all. Not able to fight. Not particularly handsome. He doesn’t get all the girls.
He just does his job, but he gets caught and could possibly face execution.
Tom Hanks plays the Lawyer who defends him and keeps Abel from being executed.
At one point he looks down at Abel who seems very calm and collected. “Aren’t you worried? he asks.
Abel replies: Would it help?
And you know the audience warms up to Abel, the ordinary man, just doing his job, noticing and collecting information and the truth, without worrying about his own life, for the cause of the kingdom, even though it is for the enemy.
I don’t know fellow agents. Harry the Spy here, with a message that maybe there is something to be learned from the Russian spy Abel. Ordinary people doing ordinary things, noticing others, but being unnoticed ourselves…doing the ordinary job without worrying about ourselves.
And that ordinary job is to love, and plant love, and water love, and tell the story of love and practice love and let love grow in us and others, until love grows into the largest of all the weeds and takes over the world.